×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Wish Upon’

This gangly mess of a supernatural thriller has camp value to burn.

With:
Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Elizabeth Rohm, Josephine Langford, Alexander Nunez, Kevin Hanchard, Sherilyn Fenn.

By any normal standards, teen horror pic “Wish Upon” is a pretty bad movie. But its badness is of such a distinct and kooky character that it can’t help but exert an inadvertent charm. Anyone looking for actual scares, sparks of originality, or dialogue worth speaking is advised to look elsewhere. But for those who delight in pickup lines like “You dig on multiverses?,” newspaper headlines reading “Police Notice Uptick in Unusual Deaths,” or the idea that Ryan Phillippe playing soft-jazz saxophone is the pinnacle of human coolness, this gangly mess of a supernatural thriller has camp value to burn. Box office prospects look dim, but as fodder for dorm-room drinking games and giggly 7th grade slumber parties, “Wish Upon” might still have a future.

Directed by longtime cinematographer and “Annabelle” helmer John R. Leonetti, “Wish Upon” is essentially a dumbed-down update of W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” in which a cursed artifact gives its owner three wishes, with each of those wishes exacting a Dantescan counter-punishment. Here, the paw has been replaced with a Chinese music box, the number of wishes has been upped to seven, and the twisted irony that made Jacobs’ story so effective has been dropped entirely, with each wish simply leading to the elaborate death of an increasingly less marginal figure in our heroine’s life.

Said heroine is 17-year-old Clare (Joey King), a plucky if not-so-bright wallflower with a dark upbringing. Seen as a young girl in flashback, she once lived in an idyllic suburban home, until the day she came back from a bike ride to find her mother (Elizabeth Rohm) hanging from a noose in the attic. Since then, her house has fallen into total disrepair – her old training bike hasn’t even been moved from the front lawn in the ten years since, which seems a bit extreme – plus she’s bullied by a Regina George-clone named Darcie (Josephine Langford) at school, and her scraggly, depressive father (Phillippe) spends his days dumpster-diving for scrap metal.

One day, he finds an octagonal music box covered in Mandarin characters in a cemetery garbage bin, and leaves it on Clare’s bed as a present. Luckily, Clare knows just enough Chinese to read the part of the inscription that reads “seven wishes,” but not enough to read all the other parts, and so she makes an idle wish that Darcie might “just go rot.” The next day, Darcie wakes up with necrotizing fasciitis. A mysterious death in Clare’s circle soon follows.

With that, the film enters a long lather-rinse-repeat cycle in which Clare makes a new wish (riches, popularity, the affections of a mouthbreathing hunk (Mitchell Slaggert), a less-embarrassing father), and we wait to see which supporting player will get it next. By “Final Destination” standards, none of these gruesome ends are particularly creative – although one scene in a kitchen sparks some laughs by continually head-faking from one sinister appliance to another – and nor is there much investment in guessing who will meet them, as screenwriter Barbara Marshall has populated the film with only slightly more characters than she needs to allow Clare a seven-wish killing spree.

No, most of the film’s appeal comes from its sheer tonal oddness. While it never tips into knowing humor or self-parody, “Wish Upon” rarely feels much like a horror movie, with most scenes taking place in bright summery sunshine, and more energy pumped into a girls-night-out shopping montage than the sequences of mounting peril. It doesn’t help that most of the cast is forced into losing battles with some highly dodgy teen dialogue, or that there seems to have been strikingly little effort made to harmonize the performances. Playing Clare’s two besties are “Stranger Things” scene-stealer Shannon Purser and Disney/Nick alumna Sydney Park — the former underplays her role with something approaching naturalism, the latter blasts volleys of sass toward the rafters, and the pair seem less like clashing personalities than characters spliced in from two entirely different films.

Though she starts out brightly enough in the lead role, King never really gets a handle on her character, who grows more irritating and less comprehensible as the film progresses. Fortunately, she has a lifeline in Ki Hong Lee, who plays a sensible skater boy named Ryan. Not only functioning as Clare’s not-so-secret-admirer and eventual conscience, Lee must also serve as the film’s dispenser of ancient lore (complete with a “crazy wall” collection of newspaper clippings), and the speaker of the multiverse line quoted above. He doesn’t manage to sell all of this, but there’s a cockeyed playfulness to the performance that suggests he knows exactly what sort of movie he’s in. Viewers would be wise to follow his lead.

Film Review: 'Wish Upon'

Reviewed at AMC Burbank, Burbank, Calif., July 10, 2017. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 89 MINS.

Production: A Broad Green Pictures presentation in association with Orion Pictures, Busted Shark Productions. Produced by Sherryl Clark. Executive producers, Gabriel Hammond, Daniel Hammond.

Crew: Directed by John R. Leonetti. Screenplay, Barbara Marshall. Camera (color), Michael Galbraith. Editor, Peck Prior. Music: tomandandy.

With: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Elizabeth Rohm, Josephine Langford, Alexander Nunez, Kevin Hanchard, Sherilyn Fenn.

More Film

  • Brett Leonard Boards 'Elijah'

    Film News Roundup: 'Lawnmower Man' Director Brett Leonard Boards 'Elijah'

    In today’s film news roundup, “Elijah” gets a director, a French fry documentary starts shooting and “Uglydolls” moves its release date forward. PROJECT LAUNCH More Reviews Broadway Review: 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Film Review: 'Dead Women Walking' Brett Leonard, best known for directing ”The Lawnmower Man” and “Virtuosity,” will direct the supernatural feature film “Elijah,” [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Commercial Negotiations Set for February

    With no fanfare, SAG-AFTRA and the ad industry have set a mid-February start for negotiations for a successor deal to the union’s master contract, Variety has learned. The current three-year deal — which covers about $1 billion in annual earnings — expires on March 31. SAG-AFTRA and the Joint Policy Committee of the ad industry [...]

  • SONDRA LOCKESONDRA LOCKE - 1986

    Oscar Nominee Sondra Locke Dies at 74

    Actress and director Sondra Locke, who received a supporting actress Oscar nomination in her first movie role for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” died Nov. 3 at 74. The Los Angeles County Public Health Department confirmed her death. She died due to breast and bone cancer, according to Radar Online, which reported that she [...]

  • Clint Eastwood and Alison Eastwood'The Mule'

    Clint Eastwood: Why Alison Eastwood Came Out of Acting Retirement for Her Dad

    Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison Eastwood was done with acting after appearing in 2014’s “Finding Harmony.” Or so she thought. More Reviews Broadway Review: 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Film Review: 'Dead Women Walking' It was a Friday night and she and her husband were heading to dinner when her father’s producer Sam Moore called. “He [says], [...]

  • 'Dead Women Walking' Review: Uncompromising, Powerful

    Film Review: 'Dead Women Walking'

    The sober and gripping “Dead Women Walking” focuses on the final days of a series of female inmates facing the death sentence. Divided into nine chapters, each inching its way inexorably closer to the moment of execution, the drama turns the fragmentation of its approach to a powerful advantage. Not only do the individual stories [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Sam Mendes' World War I Drama '1917' Set for Awards-Season Launch on Christmas 2019

    Universal Pictures has given an awards-season release date of Dec. 25, 2019, to Sam Mendes’ World War I drama “1971.” Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners is producing “1917” through its DreamWorks Pictures brand. “1917” will open in limited release on Christmas Day then go wide two weeks later on Jan. 10, 2020. More Reviews Broadway Review: [...]

  • Ventana Sur Queer Latin Film Panel

    Ventana Sur: Panel Talks Merits, Setbacks in Latin Queer Cinema

    BUENOS AIRES — Four venerable professionals from the cinema world joined on Monday evening for Queer Cinema In Latin America, a frank discussion on Latin America’s role within the queer filmscape for Ventana Sur’s Industry conference series held at the UCA campus in Buenos Aires. Touching on advancements in character arc and notable achievements in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content